“Is that the guy from the Policy Institute?” House Speaker Michael Madigan asked his press secretary after an Illinois News Network reporter recently tried to ask Madigan a question at the Statehouse.
The Illinois Policy Institute transferred ownership of the network to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity back in January. But they all share the same street address. “Same difference,” Madigan’s press secretary said.
“When are you guys gonna fold your tent?” Madigan asked the reporter.
It’s true that the Policy Institute is currently in a very weak spot. Before Bruce Rauner ran for office, the institute was the go-to source for fiscally conservative talking points. Rauner was a dream candidate for an advocacy group that bills itself as a think tank. The anti-union tax-hater was a perfect match for them.
But then the group helped engineer Rauner’s staff purge in July 2017 and everything went downhill.
Rauner abruptly fired all of his loyal top staff without helping them find other employment. And, man, were they ever hungry for revenge.
The former Rauner staffers who’d been with him since the 2014 campaign were replaced in large part by Illinois Policy Institute staffers and other people of that ilk. Those folks proved to be a disaster and almost all were forced out.
When Rauner signed HB40 into law, he drove another wedge between himself and the institute. The group’s chief executive officer John Tillman lashed out and called him “Benedict Rauner” for previously telling Republican legislators and others that he would veto the bill, which paid for abortions of Medicaid recipients. After the Sun-Times and ProPublica Illinois published an investigation into the institute’s intricate web of not-for-profit and for-profit activities, Rauner publicly vowed to not give the group “another nickel.”
And then Rauner got thumped like a drum in the November election. Rauner is soon to be gone, but can the Illinois Policy Institute come back?
Throughout the campaign, Democrat J.B. Pritzker brushed aside questions about “reforming” the state’s pension systems, a major priority for the Illinois Policy Institute. Pritzker flatly refused to entertain any ideas for lowering pension payments. He’s on the opposite side of the institute. The same goes for his support for union rights and increasing the minimum wage.
But right at the very top of the Illinois Policy Institute’s priority list is an issue that was also one of Rauner’s most important missions: Stop a graduated income tax. Pritzker openly campaigned for a progressive income tax. He can be seen as the Illinois Policy Institute’s ultimate nightmare.
There’s another way of looking at this, however. Pritzker could also be seen as the institute’s dream. They no longer have to defend a badly flawed governor and eventually the richest Illinoisans will be energized when Pritzker begins to move his agenda through the legislature, particularly the graduated income tax. The Illinois Policy Institute will be a ready-made receptacle for their mad money.
So, instead of folding their tent, Rauner’s loss just might be Tillman’s gain.